“…Nothing for us, without us, is for us…”

In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) transitioned to the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).In the 15 years that the MDGs were in effect, great development strides were made and lessons learned. Ban Ki Moon echoed one lesson in the 2015 MDGs report, that global development remains uneven. A majority of the world’s poor are still concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. I had first-hand interaction with this poverty growing up in rural Kenya and later as I returned to the same rural area to run my NGO, Pitch a Dream, working with children in primary schools.

Like many MDGs development practitioners, I saw the rural community my NGO was serving merely as beneficiaries, not 50/50 collaborators. I faced challenges implementing the solution I envisioned until I began to intentionally collaborate with the community. I realized nothing for a people without them is for them, and development was no exception. In referring to the transition from MDGs to SDGs, experts state that there is a clear need to pursue holistic approaches in seeking long-term sustainable development. I argue that holistic and collaborative go hand in hand.

As I continue my Atlas Corps fellowship at Northwestern University’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies where I interact with a diverse pool of traditional and next-gen development practitioners, I validate a fundamental truth: the underprivileged children in rural Kenyan communities, the asylum seekers from war torn African countries, the community university partners are all experts whose knowledge has not been adequately tapped. They have always been second and third place in the development hierarchy. But in ignoring the community voice we as development practitioners have and will continue to miss out on the secret ingredient to sustainability.